Not to be confused with the 90's girls with guns, soft core, direct to video action films, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is one of the true exploitation gems produced during the swinging 70's (1974, to be exact). It was a time when Toei Studios was at their zenith in terms of delivering grindhouse-worthy films filled to the brim with brutal violence and copious nudity. As directed by Yukio Noda (Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon), Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is one of those rare exploitation films filled with such invigorating style and energy, it actually rises above the rest to become a work of artistic trash, a true cinematic powerhouse.
Agent Zero (Miki Sugimoto) is a solemnly tough, play by her own rules cop, who is always clad in blood red attire, including her gun, her ID, and her red handcuffs which also function as a go for the jugular chain weapon. After she disposes of a perverted diplomat who was preying on girls he picked up in nightclubs, she is reprimanded for her vigilantism, taken off the force, and thrown in jail where she is tormented by a chorus of prostitute hags.
Agent Zero gets a chance at redemption, or at the very least freedom, following the kidnaping of a politicians (Tesuro Tamba) daughter. Recently released from jail, Nakahara (Eiji Go) reunites with his small gang and they immediately attack a young couple, killing the boyfriend, and kidnaping the girl, the politician daughter. Returning to their loft with the girl in tow, their Ma Baker matriarch recognizes the girl and they set out to ransom her. Fearing the public stain, the politician wants to keep it quiet and has the cops work on her rescue in secret. Zero is told to infiltrate the gang and dispose of them from the inside.
Make no mistake, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs is unapologetically brutal. Even by your average exploitation standards, it is more misogynistic, cruel, and ferociously maniacal than most. Built on a tapestry of excessive rape, cruelty, and torture, the film is also wonderfully entertaining thanks to some hallucinatory direction, sets swathed in primary hues, and even has some poignancy due to some anti-American stabs reflecting the faltering points of Japan's post war reconstruction.
Miki Sugimoto's Zero is cold and indifferent heroine. She passively endures a gang bang by the hoodlums in order to get within their midst and dispatches them, mainly, by sending them into a tailspin of doubt, thus fragmenting the group. While she readily strikes out with a knife, gun, or her handcuffs when the time calls for it, she plays a subdued mental game even at the cost of others being abused and assaulted while she slowly weaves her web. She doesnt quite have the engaging charisma of other pinky violence vixens like Meiko Kaji (Female Convict Scorpion, Stray Cat Rock) or Junko Fuji (Lady Yakuza), but she purrs a good tough line here and there and is certainly easy on the eyes.
It is those assaults that will stick with you, particularly the torture dealt upon one of the gang members by the cops- it involves the man being simultaneously burned on the stomach with a blowtorch, his hand crushed in a vice, and drowned by a hose pouring water down his throat. Ouch. And the rest of the film doesn't skimp when it comes to being a bloodbath. Beatings, stabbings, and gunshots often erupt into oh-so Japanese geysers of arterial spray. One cannot deny the flair of Yukio Noda's direction, which is downright dizzying. He creates some truly cool moments, from Nakahara's murderous gaze as he stares down a betrayer, the near poetic murder of the gangs busty female leader, to the finale car chase and shootout, which future-current directors should study as an example of pitch perfect action pacing and kinetic handheld camerawork.
The DVD: Discotek Media
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Excellent transfer. Japan Shock did a release of the film which was non-anamorphic, squeezed, and the print was very dirty, marred by a lot of damage. Discotek has done a far superior job. This print is damn near perfect and free of any distracting damage. Sharpness is nice and crisp. Contrast details have good shadow detail and nice deep black levels. The colors really pop and showcase the films use of vibrant hues and psychedelic cinematography. Age shows with some film grain, but what true cult fan doesn't want a little grain on there exploitation flick? Minor edge enhancement will be noticeable on high end systems but nothing to a bothersome degree.
Sound: Dolby Mono, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Naturally there are some limitations due to its era, and it is not going to be as lively or full as a modern audio track. That said, this is a very nice track with no glaring distortion problems. And, what pinky violence 70's film would be complete without a groovin' heartfelt theme song? The subtitles are excellent and always easy to follow.
Extras: Slipcase--- Liner notes by Thomas Weisser.— Poster insert.— Trailers for Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs and Lupin III (the 70's live action based on the anime).
Conclusion: While the disc does skimp on the extras, Discotek really impresses with their image and audio transfer. If every film they release meets this standard, they are going to be a cult company to reckon with. As for the film itself, obviously it is not for those who are easily offended. But, for anyone who considers themselves an exploitation fan, they should own this funky, cruel, off the wall, seedy masterpiece.